Men’s basketball takes first Big East game over Cincy

After not seeing any action on the Carnesecca Arena hardwood for almost a month, the St. John’s men’s basketball team was back in action defeating the Cincinnati Bearcats 70-58, in its Big East home opener on Saturday Jan. 5. The Johnnies (7-6, 1-1 BIG EAST), who pushed above the .500 mark in all games played, posted its first conference win of the season after dropping one to Syracuse Jan. 2.

“I was happy with the way we played tonight,” said St. John’s head coach Norm Roberts. “We played extremely hard [and] we did a good job defensively.”

Junior forward Anthony Mason Jr., who found his rhythm in the second half, finished 7-of-14 from the field and 3-of-6 from the perimeter en route to his 17-point performance. St. John’s also saw major contributions from two freshmen in only their second conference game: big man Justin Burrell, who scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds, as well as wingman D.J. Kennedy, who finished with 13 points and a game high eight boards.

“I love the competition and everything that comes along with it,” said Burrell. “This is the kind of game I want to play in.”

The Bearcats (6-8, 1-1) showed some fight as they tried to match the Red Storm surge in the second half by spreading the five and executing plays quickly. St. John’s was forced to stay consistent on both sides of the floor when Cincinnati’s sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn scored 19 of his game high 24-point finish and senior forward John Williamson scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half alone. But, the Bearcats were far from seizing control of the game as the team stayed at a deficit for the length of the second period. Cincinnati was only able to bring the game within six at the 16:51 mark when Vaughn drained a trey off an assist from teammate guard Jamual Warren.

Senior guard tri-captain Eugene Lawrence came through for the Johnnies using stable dribble penetration to draw fouls. Lawrence shot 7-of-10 from the charity stripe and finished with 12 points for St. John’s.

Cincinnati seemed to have high hopes of clinching a second consecutive conference win, but could not overcome St. John’s as they built up a lead to as much as 17 points at the 1:32 mark of the second stanza.

The Red Storm topped the Bearcats in rebounds 32-26, shot 51.1 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from downtown. Cincinnati, who had fewer opportunities at the free throw line, was more accurate shooting 81.8 percent (9-of-11) from the line, while St. John’s shot 57.1 percent (16-of-28).

The St. John’s team led 33-22 going into halftime. During the first half, the Johnnies were very careful watching their hands (limiting fouls to only four) and preventing the Bearcats from setting foot on the free throw line. Cincinnati led the majority of the period, but St. John’s went on a 19-4 run sparked by Burrell’s jumper at the 5:57 mark and sealed with Mason, Jr.’s long range three-pointer off an assist from freshman guard Malik Boothe with eight seconds left to the half. The St. John’s run recaptured the lead before heading into the locker room.

“Each game is very important in the BIG EAST because you are playing against different talents and this win put us back up,” Mason, Jr. said. “The game before this was important, this game was important and the next one coming up at UConn is important.”

St. John’s is back on the road for its third conference game on Tuesday, Jan. 8 to face the UConn Huskies at the Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut. The Johnnies are looking for its first win over the Huskies since Feb. 2002.